"Journey into the Unknown."
That's EXACTLY what I did when I purchased Distant Frontiers from a mysterious, shady, and mostly toothless character at a local flea market the other day. Why do those people always smell like cheap deodorant and pork rinds? I was simply unable to resist the allure of the box art. An eight year old sci-fi computer game that promises galactic exploration and the ability to genetically engineer my own crew can't be passed up.
Inside the box was a registration card that, to my relief, had a tech support number on it. I wasn't about to journey into the unknown without securing 60 days of free technical support! So I filled in the questions such as, "what computer magazines do you read?" and "what are the ages of children (if any) in your home?". Some of the questions didn't give me enough choices, as it asked me What version of Windows I used, 3.0 or 3.1 I wrote XP and drew a box beside it and checked that.
Installation was rather painless, but I really had to dig deep in the recesses of my mind to remember the awkward extras you had to do when running a DOS game. I was able to get it to run, although I still couldn't hear any sound effects. The opening music baffled me, and the vocals sounded like a little boy was using his "daddy voice" while playing with toys.
"Hey captain, we've got to get out of here!"
"Okay, let's start the Whale. Four, three, two one."
Your first task is to "genetically engineer your crew". Now, I have no experience in this whatsoever. The only thing I've ever done with genetics involved a little lotion and a microscope purchased at a local toy store. But that was a long time ago!!!
I chose my first crew member, a cross between a squid-headed alien and a human that resembled Celine Dion. I hoped the unholy union would spawn a creature of unspeakable power. That, or it'd be really fun to watch.
The result? I named him Snoopy because of his floppy ears! HEHEHEH!
Next you have to distribute skill points, as in a roleplay game. Then you pick a school for the genetically engineered offspring to attend. Then a college. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility, like a new parent probably feels. I started worrying about proms, first kisses, frat parties... What was happening to me? The game was slowly wrapping it's tendrils of despair around my very soul. I steeled myself and quickly created the other three characters.
The game starts with you in a ship, the Whale. I was bouncing with excitement as a row of planets decorated my screen. What wonders would I find on those worlds? What new and exciting things would be there for me to swoop down and reap? My face sagged with disappointment when I saw my ship had 0 fuel. The only thing I could do was beam down to the planet I was orbiting. You have to start somewhere, I suppose.
As you can see, the main play screen is somewhat like "Eye of the Beholder" and other pre-Wolfenstien 3d type games. If your eye is quick enough, you might spot Doctor Who, Colonel Mustard from Clue, and comedian Tim Allen! You can also see how Baazgavog and Celine's lovechild turned out, in the lower right corner.
So... where's the fuel for my ship? Where are the treasures? Where is the exploration? So far, all that I'm exploring is a city populated by poorly animated sprites. There are trash cans everywhere, but I can't find the "rummage" button. Every 4 minutes or so, a strange message flashes on the screen "Joker is joking... Har...Har...Har." As soon as I snapped out of my perplexed stupor, I reached for the manual and learned that one crew member's duty is to keep the morale of the others up. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to keep my morale up.
After wandering aimlessly for an hour, I decided to call tech support. My journey into the unknown was just beginning...
I dialed (800) 429-3825*, the number in the game manual [268kb], and was pleasantly surprised to find that a tech support line for an eight year old game from Softprime, a company no one had ever heard of, was still operational. I was greeted by a very sweet man who informed me that he had been waiting for me. I just had to enter my credit card information.
After a brief introduction, I told him how my rocket needed fuel. He asked me how long it was (I didn't know you could build onto the ship... man they thought of everything for this game!) and I told him I haven't had a chance to expand it much. He told me that was fine, and it didn't matter how long it was, because he would teach me how to use it. I explained to him that this was my first time and I had been playing with it for about an hour and hadn't gotten anywhere; he happily informed me that I had called the right number. I told him how my frustrations began to manifest; he complimented me on how sexy my voice was.
I'd never been complimented by such a nice technical support person in my life! He then tried to walk me through a process to "get my rocket going" as he said. He told me to take it out (of orbit, for you landlubbers out there) and that he'd love to guide it in for me. I asked him if moving my joystick would have any affect, and he enthusiastically stated it most certainly would. I told him to hold the phone for a second while I went to "dig" it out. Once I had it in position, he said for me to grasp it firmly and slowly move it, imagining he was the one moving it for me.
I asked him how I could use it to attack the people wandering the town and he hesitated answering me for about 20 seconds. His once friendly tone of voice became rather annoyed. I decided to hang up and try to figure it out myself.
Three hours, two bottles of Coca-Cola, and a bag of Chex Mix later, I was at the point where I would verbally beg the in-game characters to help me. What made it worse, was I couldn't attack them out of frustration. According to the manual, my characters had weapons, psychokinetic powers, and all sorts of resources at their disposal, but all I could do was get them to say "Ouch" when i tried to walk into a wall.
With tears streaming down my cheeks and an unsatisfied yearning for galactic exploration, I brushed broken nacho flavored Chex pieces off of my shirt and curled up on the couch to sob quietly. Are you happy, denizens of Softprime? Programmers of a sadistic game that promises so many things, yet delivers nothing but silent confusion? I'm tired of making footstep sounds with my tongue! I'm still hurt by the uncaring (yet sensual) tech support person's mockery of my dilemma.
It's clear to me now, however, why the joker is joking, Har...Har...Har. The joke was on me.
* This number is not in any way affiliated with Ironic Consumer. It's the actual number given in the game manual. Call at your own risk. Click here to return.
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